Hurricane Sandy was tearing up the east coast last October, but as far as New England’s Rusty Belle were concerned, they were just hoping the electricity stayed on long enough for them to finish recording their sixth album, Common Courtesy.
“We were nervous that the power was going to quit,” said guitarist Zak Trojano. “That was the big concern. It was just windy and rainy and it had that electricity in the air. It was also the second record in a row that was recorded under a full moon, so I think we might continue to do that.”
Given the quality of Common Courtesy, which was released on September 10, that may be a good omen for the trio (Trojano, Kate Lorenz, Matt Lorenz), with Trojano certainly coming from a place where the location and feel of a recording – in this case Sonelab in Easthampton, Massachusetts – can certainly add to how the finished product sounds.
“I’m in the Neil Young school of thought, and he records on the full moon a lot too, and when you’re creating an environment for a certain vibe that you want to try to get, it works wonders,” he said. “When we did the Full Moon Weekend sessions, we brought in lamps and little couches and all this stuff because we were all living together at that time and we wanted to bring in stuff from our home to have our vibe in the room, and that was great. And the Common Courtesy sessions were at a really good friend’s new recording studio and we didn’t really feel the need to alter the space that much because it has a really strong vibe on its own. It makes a big difference.”
So with the atmosphere, the songs, and the performances all in place, the only issue the band seems to have is the curse of several acts these days – what do you call their music? Their website bio lists Roots-Rock / Junk-Folk at the top of the page, and that’s probably accurate, but not as accurate as “good music,” though there’s probably not a section for that on iTunes or in your local record store.
“The pitfall is that nobody knows what to do with us,” said Trojano of the band, which was founded in 2006. “Nobody in the industry knows what to do with us, and people who listen to us, if they can get out of saying ‘oh, this isn’t a rock band’ or ‘this isn’t a blues band,’ or whatever, and just get to a show and listen to us, a lot of them seem to come back and listen to us again and they seem to like it and they buy our records. So the quality of the material’s there, it’s just I think of probably 50-60 conversations I’ve had with record companies and booking agents, and they all sort of say the same thing: ‘we don’t know what to do with you guys. What are you?’”
Trojano laughs, having been through this drill long enough that it doesn’t even bother him anymore, if it ever did.
“I don’t care what you call it, and I think most musicians are that way,” he said. “We don’t really think of things in those terms. Just put rock band, because we don’t want to create this large moniker for whatever style of music we play, and who knows what a rock band is these days. It’s sort of where the title ‘Americana’ came from. Who knows what it is, it’s just a mixture of American music. Maybe that’s the closest thing to what we are.”
The mixing of genres, the interplay between the band members, and their versatile musicianship has given Rusty Belle a unique sound, and with the even more unique tact of not worrying about fitting into a particular place musically for marketing purposes keeps each album fresh and keeps them evolving.
“We just don’t have the option of making anything else,” laughs Trojano. “It feels like we just write the songs and it’s kind of inevitable what they’re gonna be, and if people like them, then that’s great. I don’t know if we’ve ever felt nervous about it in any way. And this is not an attitude we’ve thought about or really cultivated; it might be a lack of something, I don’t know. (Laughs) It is what it is. It’s allowed us to be very prolific and at least have the possibility of being unique and creative in our own way. A lot of people listen to our music and tell us it’s hard to pin down the genre or anything like that, and that’s what we like. We enjoy so many different kinds of music, and when we write it and make it, there’s always been very little thought of its reception or even its function. And that’s why this is my favorite band that I’ve even been in – the process is pretty pure.”
And luckily, Common Courtesy and its ensuing tour, which will arrive at The Living Room in NYC on Thursday, come at a time when bands without “conventional” sounds are starting to make inroads where they never would have years ago.
“Some of the bands that we know have started to achieve some sort of success and even Mumford & Sons or a band like that, they’re not my favorite thing on the planet, but they’re writing songs, singing them, and playing their instruments, and they’re a band,” he said. “So that’s a good thing.”
So are Common Courtesy and the three musicians who made it.
“What I took away from the record and what I think the band has taken away from it is that it really feels to us like we graduated,” said Trojano. “It has this feeling of pushing down a spring for six years and then letting it go for one record. Right now, it feels like our best work and you can’t do better than that.”
Rusty Belle plays The Living Room in NYC at 7pm on Thursday, September 19. For more information, click here.